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Any pointers for a first SQF audit?

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Posted 02 July 2015 - 03:09 PM

Any pointers? Going for SQF audit soon, wanted to join up and get as much information as possible.  We are Combined Technologies Inc. out of Bristol Indiana.  We are a packaging & fullfillment facility.  Been in business for 15 years and just starting to add food products. We look foward to learning and sharing with the community.




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Posted 02 July 2015 - 04:08 PM

Pointer #1: You came to the right place! Use IFSQN; in my opinion the absolute best resource you'll find re. food safety and quality on the internet.

Pointer #2: Do your homework when choosing a Certification Body and go the extra mile when you think you're ready and have your CB perform a pre-audit assessment. The auditor won't be able to consult if he/she finds a non-conformance, but will let you know what problems you have. Then come to this site and search and/ask away and fix the problems. If you've arranged with your CB to have the pre-assessment auditor return to conduct the desk audit and then the physical audit you'll have a much better chance of a good result.

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Posted 08 July 2015 - 10:34 PM

Off the top of my head... :rofl2:

Complete SQFI’s SQF Code Checklist.  It’s a beast, but it is the best way that I know of to make sure that you have covered everything.  Completing it is very much like being in an audit in that the auditor will go to the code and ask you to provide your evidence that you comply with it.  In that way, a completed checklist can be a fantastic reference.


If you don’t complete the SQF Code Checklist or don’t want to worry about working with such a large document during the audit, I highly recommend putting together a list of every SQF Code element in your modules and then make notes about what your facility is doing to meet each requirement.  Include document titles because the auditor is going to ask for them.  This cheat sheetAttached File  SQF Code & Associated Documents - Module 2.pdf   389.07KB   187 downloads has been the very most valuable thing to me during both audits.  It makes things so much easier!


Document control, document control, document control!!!  Make sure that all of your documents are in a register and all of the information in the register matches the documents exactly (e.g., revision number) (see  In the two audits that I have participated in, the auditors have each checked the accuracy of our register multiple times throughout the course of the audit.


Make sure you have documented all of your document revisions (see  In my experience, the auditors have not actually read this information, they've just glanced at it to verify it exists.


All employees need to know where your Policy Statement is posted, what it says, and how it applies to what they do.  All employees need to be prepared to discuss with the auditor what their job is and what they do that ensures that food stays safe.  Both of our auditors interviewed employees about these things.  To help people remember, I put up signs throughout the facility paraphrasing what is in our policy statementAttached File  SIGN.Food Safety Objectives.pdf   168.29KB   162 downloads and reminding people of important GWPsAttached File  SIGN.GWP Reminders.pdf   68.52KB   148 downloads.  I also put up signs with different things that we do to keep food safe—quick and easy reminders.  People get nervous when the auditor is talking to them, so if they can think of what was on one of my goofy reminder signs—even just one word, like “thermometer”—that can be enough to get them going explaining something that they do to ensure food stays safe, such as when we take temperatures or when we exchange thermometers for calibration checks.


Have training records for crisis management team (on your business continuity plan) (see  This is in addition to having documented proof of the business continuity plan annual review and test (and verification) (see


Have training records for your internal auditors (see  Both of our auditors checked for these records.


Have training records for your HACCP team members (see  Both of our auditors checked for these records.


Have records of pre-shift inspections, including verification of cleaning tasks (for our facility, doing Module 12, it is and  These were very carefully inspected by our recertification auditor.


Have first aid stations where you need them and have information posted there about reporting injuries to management and what to do for additional care (e.g., CALL 911!).  For our facility, this is required for  Both of our auditors really checked out our first aid facilities.


Let employees know that they don’t need to panic if something “bad” happens while the auditor is around.  Auditors know that accidents happen—it’s our response that they care about.  For example, we had large tote of frozen fish fall off a pallet during loading and the forklift driver panicked.  No harm, no foul!—as long as everyone involved followed our documented procedures for handling damaged product


Make sure your HACCP Plan has been reviewed and validated, and you have a signature to prove it.  Your process flow diagram and HACCP flowcharts should all have validation signatures, as well.  In our first audit, we only had signatures on our HACCP flowcharts and that was acceptable to the auditor.  However, during our second audit, the auditor got hung up on the fact that we did not have the process flow diagram signed.  It’s easy enough to add, so I did and now I won’t have to worry about it next time.


Have records of your annual system review—even if you have not been doing everything for a year yet.  We had only been doing our SQF system for 3 months before our certification audit and the auditor still wanted to see our documented proof of a review, so I was glad we had it ready.  The same thing goes for your program validation activities.


Make sure your records of customer complaints include implementing corrective action (see to resolve issues (completely!) and that you have records for each complaint (see  Our recertification auditor checked out our records very thoroughly.


If your facility conducts recalls, make sure that you include corrective action to address the reason for the recall in your annual test (and document it, of course!).  Our facility does not conduct recalls—if a customer is recalling their product, we just put it on hold for them.  So, we don’t have to do the corrective action step, but I have heard from others that it has been required by auditors at facilities that do conduct their own recalls.


Make sure your monitoring and verification activities are documented, including frequencies (that make sense!) and who is responsible for each activity (see and 2.5.1-2.5.4).  This wasn’t such an issue during our certification audit because we had not been doing things for very long at all.  It was a major issue during our recertification audit.  The auditor very thoroughly checked to make sure that our records of these activities matched our documented frequencies.


Make sure corrective and preventive actions meet the requirements of 2.5.5.  In all honesty, I recommend quality over quantity—at least for a facility like mine (frozen storage).  Instead of making sure that I have EVERY nonconformity (e.g., personal items found on top of a locker) documented, tracked, etc., I want to make sure that what I do have is done very well.  All it takes is for one item to be missing one step (e.g., actually completing retraining, not just saying that it needs to be done) and the auditor can call it a nonconformity.  I strive to be able to track everything, but it continues to prove to be too burdensome.  So, for now, I prioritize based on each nonconformities impact on food safety.


If anything in the SQF Code does not apply to your facility, make sure you have it documented somewhere WHY this is.  I've attached an exampleAttached File  19 - Contract Manufacturers Register.10-11-2013.pdf   219.3KB   137 downloads of the format that I have been using—basically just quoting the SQF Code element and then documenting our response to it.  These documents have served us well in both of our audits.


Have risk assessments and risk analyses documented to support decisions that have been made about corrective and preventive actions.  I have heard from those with more authority than myself that this area is becoming more and more important to auditors. 


KNOW YOUR PROGRAM inside and out. 


Lastly, you may be experienced being in audits, but I was not when I started doing SQF audits.  One of the hardest things for me to NOT do is "over-provide" information to the auditor.  It is difficult at times to make myself wait until they specifically ask for something because my background is in the legal field, so my first instinct is to pour it on.


All of the above is based on my limited experience having done two Level 2 SQF audits now (Modules 2 and 12).  I hope that some of it is helpful, but have to say that one of the harshest things that I have had to realize doing these audits is that there is NOT a lot of consistency between auditors.  It is extremely frustrating at times!  Just know that what has worked for others may not work for you simply because you may have a different auditor.



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